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We’ve talked about how Abrahamic religions and the institutions built around them have been weaponized for the oppression and subjugation of women through history. Islam, Christianity and Judaism are central in the lives of countless women, however, some of their teachings regarding women are questionable at best and downright misogynistic at worst. Beyond the manipulation of these faiths for the evil intentions of society to control women, controversial teachings like those of Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians portray an image that is in conflation with feminist principles. “Blessed art Thou Who hast not made me a female” is one of the men’s morning prayers for Jewish men and, Islam’s requirements of modesty are often imposed harshly on women but not on their male counterparts. Undoubtedly, the patriarchal nature of society bleeds into these religions and these religions in turn also fuel the patriarchy.
For this article, the focus is on Christian Feminists.
We spoke to some women who are feminists as well as religious women and asked their opinions on such teachings and their faith as a whole in relation to the feminist struggle.
Tomini, a devout Christian acknowledges that certain aspects of her religion clash with her feminist beliefs.
Atinuke: “Do you feel like your Christianity and feminist beliefs clash?”
Tomini: “Yes. Almost all the time.”
Atinuke: “How do you deal with it?”
Tomini: “Honestly, I can’t say exactly. How I’ve lived my life is based on my own moral standards. I think I should know right from wrong. After all, the holy spirit dwells in me now. So to be honest, I discard lots of ‘these beliefs’ if they don’t tally with what I feel and common sense. Plus, documentation of these beliefs was done by a number of people in the old days where inequality ruled. It’s logical to think the wordings would reflect their thinking of that time. So please, I won’t be tied down by those words thousands of years later abeg.”
Atinuke: “How do you feel about the history of the church and how the faith has been and is still being used to oppress women?”
Tomini: “Well, to be honest, it’s disturbing. Extremely. But like I said, I’ve discarded a lot of things. All those ‘men are the head of the family’ things, nope, they’re not for me. As I said, the usual practice at that period would have influenced the teachings and practice of the church. I’m not in that period and refuse to act like I am.”
Ladun begins by quoting Numbers 27 and tells me the story of what she refers to as “the first actual/known feminist act perpetrated by God.” Here, he endorses female children who were to be disinherited simply because they were daughters and not sons. She says, “God punished Eve as well as Adam; he didn’t punish Adam alone, as per, equality.”
“Paul was the same man who was killing Christians before his conversion, so I don’t understand why people decide to take his teachings hook, line and sinker. He has been wrong before; who says he’s not wrong now?”
Ladun also recognises that religion is heavily influenced by culture and how a person’s culture influences their beliefs. She cites the example of a popular Yoruba mega-church head and how his teachings centre respect, righteousness and other such values that she considers to be intrinsically Yoruba.
She believes that God loves us all equally and does not consider gender or age or so in his judgements. “When he was giving the ten commandments, there were no gender roles; there are no gendered commandments in the bible. Human beings themselves made it very oppressive towards women. The heart of man is very wicked and no one has complete knowledge on any subject.”
She concludes by saying, “There’s no separate heaven for women and men; there’s equality in the word of God.”
Bayonle, who is also a Christian, believes that her faith and her feminism can coexist because Jesus preached equality. She believes that Paul’s teachings are flawed and do not reflect the disposition of the faith regarding women.
“Paul’s teachings are a reflection of his sexism and not the path of God. Paul was just a disciple, a mere man that received ministrations from God. His teachings are not the gospel; they just contribute to the gospel. Jesus preached equality and treated everyone equally, based on my belief, Jesus is a direct mirror of God so, any teachings in the Bible in contradiction with his teachings are to be discarded.
The church is filled with men like Paul, men who receive ministrations from God but still refuse to do away with their sexism because it benefits them. They continue to uphold Paul’s teachings without deeply examining them. If they questioned his teachings, they would realize that Paul existed in a deeply sexist era, much worse than ours. As a writer, his writings would reflect his society and that’s what he did. Jesus was able to see beyond the present society because of his stronger link to God who knows all things.
If there’s a second coming of Christ and I get chosen to be an apostle, I would obviously write from a feminist account just as Paul wrote from a misogynistic angle. Paul was a man and he was heavily flawed, he just enjoyed the special grace of God. His teachings, however, are not necessarily binding, only the teachings that align with Jesus’ teachings are relevant and Jesus strongly advocated for equality and fairness.”
Religion serves as a moral compass and guideline for all aspects of life and living and seemingly conflicting ideologies may not be welcome in the life of an adherent. However, the intersection between religion and feminism is evident in the women who walk both paths and embody the feminist cause as well as their faiths.